In Arizona County Where Latinos Have an Edge, So Did Trump

by admin December 13, 2016 at 7:34 pm

Yuma County is a lot like other counties along the southern border, a place that is anchored on the globalist trade policies and mass immigration that Mr. Trump has fervently opposed. Its agricultural industry relies almost entirely on Mexican laborers. Every morning from November through March, as many as 40,000 of them cross legally into the United States to pick most of the lettuce consumed by Americans in the cold months.

But unlike the majority of border counties, this one voted for Mr. Trump won the county by a percentage point.

Its residents now hope that he did not mean everything he said during the campaign. Instead, they want him to recognize that their economic prosperity, which they agree needs to rely on more than just agriculture, depends on maintaining connections to Mexico.

“The communities are really connected,” said Mayor Douglas J. Nicholls of Yuma, a Republican. “You can’t think about this region without considering both sides.”

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A crew harvesting romaine lettuce last month between Yuma and San Luis, Ariz.

Credit
Caitlin O’Hara for The New York Times

Yuma, the county seat, stands about halfway between Phoenix and San Diego, though it is culturally and geographically isolated from both. To drivers making the trip, it is a pit stop; there is a glut of fast-food restaurants right off highway exit ramps, for a quick in and out.

The city is home to an Army Proving Ground and a Marine Corps Air Station, fortified islands that nonetheless help shape the county’s law-and-order disposition. Latinos, whose roots in the area straddle two countries, make up 62 percent of the county’s 201,000 residents, and the closer one gets to the border, the more predominant they become. In the city of San Luis, which adjoins Mexico, virtually every resident is Latino.

Not all of them can vote, though, and among those who can, there are many who do not because they are not engaged politically. One thing that makes Yuma stand out is its success in at least one key element of Mr. Trump’s approach to border security: Apprehensions of undocumented immigrants plummeted to roughly 6,000 last year from 140,000 in 2005, after a barrier that already existed was fortified and augmented.

Eleven years ago, unauthorized immigrants would rush at the border by the hundreds, knowing that federal agents could not catch them all. These days, it is mostly Central American and Haitian migrants who are keeping the agents busy, turning themselves in at the port of entry in San Luis and asking for asylum.

“Illegal immigration isn’t something that’s on people’s minds around here, Hispanic or not Hispanic,” said Capt. Eben Bratcher of the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office.

The area’s political balance has been slowly tilting left, as the county’s demographics are changing, mirroring the rise in the number of Latinos throughout Arizona. For the first time since 2004, voters elected more Democrats than Republicans for the Board of Supervisors. Still, “in the Hispanic community, there was a lot of disagreement over Trump,” said Tony Reyes, a county supervisor for 18 years and the vice chairman of the county’s Democratic Party.

“There were some people who judged him by his statements on Mexicans and Mexico,” Mr. Reyes said. “Then there’s those who picked him because of his message on jobs.”

Still, they considered his portrayal of the border as lawless and unsafe, and his denunciation of Nafta as unfair to American workers, as overly broad generalizations.

There are automotive plants in Ciudad Juárez, across from El Paso; aerospace plants in Mexicali, southwest of Yuma; and medical devices’ manufacturers in Tijuana, near San Diego. On the American side, there is a mix of retail stores, warehouses and trucking companies whose task is to move what is made in Mexico deeper into the United States and on to Canada.

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A couple dressed for working in the fields joined the line of traffic to get into San Luis, Rio Colorado, Sonora, Mexico, after the workday in San Luis, Ariz.

Credit
Caitlin O’Hara for The New York Times

“The two sides, they’re like photonegatives of each other,” said Erik Lee, executive director of the North American Research Partnership, which analyzes the economic dynamic of the southern border.

When workers in foreign-owned factories, known in Spanish as maquiladoras, get paid, they come across to shop at the clothing stores of San Luis and the big-box stores of Yuma.

Gregorio Garcia, 68, Mayor Nicholls’s father-in-law, closed his wholesale food business during the Mexican peso crisis of 1994. That same year, Nafta was signed and he opened a cross-border transportation business to bring spinach, leeks, radishes and green onions all year from Mexico to the United States, tariff-free.

“I’ve given my wife and two daughters a good life, thanks to Mexico,” said Mr. Garcia, who voted for Mr. Trump.

“I liked what Trump said about keeping American companies in America,” he said. “Yuma can use some of that. We need jobs, but we also need workers.”

On the edge of a field of lettuce off U.S. Highway 95, which links Yuma to San Luis, a sign read, “Se solicitan empleados” — workers wanted.

Nearby, Miguel Martínez, 28, managed a crew picking romaine lettuce on a patch of land before him, having already computed his losses because he could not find enough people to harvest the lettuce on a field to his left.

“I voted for Trump — we need to shake things up. But I’d like to hear his plan to give more visas for agricultural workers,” Mr. Martinez said. “If no American wants these jobs, are we going to let the lettuce go rotten?”

For Antonio Martinez, the barbershop owner, who also voted for Mr. Trump, agriculture has its needs, but the jobs it offers are “dead-end jobs,” he said.

“A lot of us here, we’ve studied hard, we work hard; we don’t want to work on the fields, and we don’t want handouts,” he said. “What we want — what we need — are more opportunities.”

Correction: December 13, 2016

An earlier version of this article, relying on outdated information, provided the wrong margin of victory for Donald J. Trump in Yuma County. It was one percentage point, not five.

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